What a difference a week makes. Once considered a long shot for an Oscar nom, Jennifer Aniston has now received the holy trifecta — nominations for best actress from SAG, Golden Globe and the Critics’ Choice Awards. An Oscar nomination seems more and more likely.
It’s all the more impressive that Aniston has received such attention for a small independent film. In “Cake,” written by first-time screenwriter Patrick Tobin and directed by Daniel Barnz, she plays Claire Simmons, a woman who suffers from chronic pain and becomes obsessed with learning more about a member of her support group who committed suicide. Aniston has never been given such a meaty role on the bigscreen before, and she rewards the filmmakers’ gamble with a beautiful, heartfelt performance.
Aniston has made a lot of progress in a short time in the race and will likely continue. There are so many factors that go into Academy voting that have little do with the acting at hand. So here’s a list of reasons why Aniston just might end up taking home the gold on Oscar night.
1. The campaign
Nobody is working harder than Aniston to get word out about the small film. She’s been coast-to-coast for screenings, interviews and events, and she is always smart, passionate and charming. Her charm offensive is reminiscent of when Halle Berry was cast against type in 2001’s “Monster’s Ball.” In the beginning, Berry was considered a longshot, but she worked harder than any other nominee. In the end, she usurped the likes of Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman and frontrunner Sissy Spacek for “In the Bedroom” to win the Academy Award.
2. Voters love an underdog
Too often, people complain about the predictability in Oscar choices—how the awards feel over before they’re even announced. But unlike years where “The King’s Speech” or “Argo” emerged as early frontrunners and went on to win, this year has proved to be one of the most difficult to predict in a long time. And every once in a while, the Academy likes to throw in a curveball, like wins for Marisa Tomei in “My Cousin Vinny” or Marcia Gay Harden for “Pollock.” Right now, there is no bigger underdog in the category than Aniston, and there’s something exciting about the idea of her winning.
3. Voters really love a transformation
From Charlize Theron hiding her looks in “Monster” to Nicole Kidman slapping on a prosthetic nose in “The Hours,” Oscar always favors actors who are willing to strip away their good looks – especially beautiful women. Much has been made of the fact Aniston wore little to no makeup for “Cake,” other than prosthetic scars. She also dresses down in frumpy clothes and sports unwashed hair. She’s still Jennifer Aniston, so suffice it to say she still looks better than most people on an average day – but it’s the kind of vanity-free performance the Academy loves.
4. The competition
Since the start of awards season, the perceived frontrunner for best actress has been Julianne Moore as a professor diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in “Still Alice.” While Moore’s work is stellar as always, most of the talk is about how the four-time nominee is overdue. But there is little doubt that Moore will be back in the race, and this isn’t perceived as her last opportunity to win. Other names like Reese Witherspoon, Marion Cotillard and Hilary Swank are in the mix, but are all recent winners. On the flip side, actresses like Rosamund Pike and Felicity Jones are considered fairly new, and the nomination will be their reward. In short, there doesn’t appear to be a passionate fanbase for any particular actress. Which makes Aniston bursting into the race last-minute, cast against type in a small movie, a compelling narrative to get behind.
5. Public sentiment
This is tricky, but again, let’s not pretend people’s emotions don’t get involved. Aniston has been the center of so much speculation and gossip for years as part of one of the world’s most famous triangles, and while I suspect everyone involved has long moved on, the same cannot be said for the general public. It’s easy to imagine people rallying behind Aniston – particularly in a year where Jolie’s “Unbroken” is supposed to be a big player. As one Academy member put it after “Unbroken” was snubbed at the Globes, “I can’t believe the HFPA missed out on an opportunity to get them all in the same room.”
6. The performance itself
Aniston is fantastic in “Cake,” which should be the most obvious and important reason she’s worthy. It’s a meaty role with so many facets, and she nails every scene. In lesser hands, Claire could have been exceedingly unsympathetic, shrill or pitiful. Instead, Aniston plays all shades of a complex woman and inhabits her grief so fully we understand and even forgive Claire. For every moment where her anger drives someone away, there’s a sweet, simple scene such as the one in which she gives her housekeeper (a wonderful Adrianna Barrazza) a gentle ego boost. Those who dismiss her as a TV star clearly don’t realize just how difficult her work on “Friends” could be – and how easy she made it look. Those who write her off as a star, not an actress, forget that some people can be both.